A Familiar Face Joins PAEA Staff

It was far from a snap decision for Karen Hills to leave Duke University, where she’s been since 2001 when she started out as a teaching fellow. But in her new and newly created role of Chief of Educational Development, she’s looking forward to applying her experience at Duke to enhance and expand PAEA’s faculty development resources and services.

“As a program director and PA educator, Karen brings exactly what we were looking for to this position,” said PAEA CEO Timi Agar Barwick. “She understands contemporary education principles and the business of education — and, most importantly, provides an outcomes approach to making our members’ lives easier at the local level.”

Here’s what else we learned about our newest staff member — in her own words:

What made you decide to apply for the position of Chief of Educational Development?

I was excited by the opportunity to take the technical expertise I had acquired in my faculty roles and share it with others. It is an important time in our profession as we think about what the next 50 years will bring and being a part of the discussion as an experienced voice for PA education was important to me.

Karen Hills

Karen Hills, MS, PA-C

This is a brand new position for PAEA. Since you’re essentially starting with a clean slate, what is your vision for the educational development arm of the Association?

Where to begin? There is such a need for faculty development, helping programs to connect with one another and maximizing the Association’s resources. I look forward to working with others to not only ensure that PA faculty have the operational skills to successfully educate their students but also to strengthen PAEA’s role in developing strategic leaders who can understand the demands of the shift in demographics, rise in chronic disease, escalating costs, changes in prevention/population health, the importance of advocacy, and the navigation of OTP — and what it means for educators. I hope to work with other PAEA staff to capitalize on existing resources and identify opportunities where we can expand and enhance current program offerings. The Professional Services arm of the Association has worked hard to provide programs with individual consultation, and I look forward to working with the group to augment the services already provided.

You’ve held several leadership roles within the PA education community — including PAEA President. How did you first get involved in leadership with PAEA?

I applied for a position on what at the time was the Education Committee. Fortunately, I worked at a PA program where volunteer service to the Association was valued and seen as a professional responsibility.

What do you see as the most exciting opportunity in your role as Chief of Educational Development? What do you expect will be your greatest challenge in this role?

Most exciting will be all the new things I am going to learn and all the new people I will have an opportunity to work with. As a lifelong learner (like all PA faculty), it excites me to think about the new opportunities and connections I will be making. I look forward to continuing to help advance the education of PAs through strong faculty development and support. The greatest challenge: Wanting to do it all now! Executing PAEA’s plan of strategic priorities will help to direct the course of the position, but there really is so much to do.

What lessons learned as a program director do you think will be especially valuable in your new role with PAEA?

I have 16 years of experience as a PA educator. I started as a teaching fellow, then was promoted to clinical coordinator, associate program director, and then program director. So I can relate to PA educators wherever they are in their professional journey. I have been supported throughout my career by great mentors and colleagues and want to provide that to others in return. I join other PA colleagues at the Association who can share the PA educator perspective and that is critical as we continue to provide the best services and products to our members.

What has surprised you most about being a leader?

Two thoughts come to mind. First, no one is a good leader alone. As Capt. Charlie Plumb, the former Navy fighter pilot and POW, said: “There are always people who pack your parachute. These are the people who support you and make sure you have what you need to succeed.” Second, don’t be afraid to get outside of your comfort zone. As Eleanor Roosevelt said: “We should all do something every day that scares us.”

What do you think you will miss most about not being part of a PA program?

That’s easy — the people I worked with and the students I had the privilege to teach. It really is an amazing experience to watch the transformation of bright-eyed students as they become skilled clinicians who you would have the greatest confidence in caring for you or a loved one.

Can you tell us something about you that would probably surprise most people?

My husband and I got married in Venice, Italy. This was at a time before destination weddings were common, so it was just the two of us along with two Wake Forest University faculty members who happened to be in Venice at the time and served as our witnesses. One of them, my former Italian professor, insisted that we return from the ceremony by water taxi, as it was a Venetian tradition that all brides go down the Grand Canal. Thus, my wedding photos have the Rialto Bridge as the backdrop!